The Takeaway

The Agenda: Gas Prices, GOP Campaign, Occupy Our Prisons

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gas prices are going up and it's turning into a campaign issue. Gas prices have already risen 25 cents since the start of the year, putting them at $3.25 a gallon, a record high for this time of year. Occupy organizers turn their attention towards the more than 2 million people in prisons with what they're calling National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is in Egypt trying to resolve a diplomatic dispute over American NGO workers in Egypt charged with using illegal funding to incite revolution. 

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The Takeaway

As Tensions with Iran Rise, So Do Oil Prices

Friday, February 17, 2012

This time last year, unrest in Libya sent oil prices climbing, adding pressure to an already struggling economy.  Now, it looks like a similar scenario could happen this spring and summer: in retaliation for an embargo planned by the European Union, Iran has threatened to cut off oil supplies. Impacting virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy, these increased oil prices will almost certainly influence the election's climate.

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Transportation Nation

Regulators Soon To Release Reports On Yellowstone River Pipeline Break And Oil Spill

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oil on the surface of a wetland adjacent to the Yellowstone River (photo by NWFBlog via Flickr)

(Helena, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio)  – The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) told Montana officials the agency expects to release a report soon on last summer’s crude oil pipeline spill into the Yellowstone River.

The update was delivered to the February meeting of the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council.

PHMSA is wrapping up its Corrective Action Order against ExxonMobil, owner of the Silvertip Pipeline. The CAO essentially tells the company to make the pipeline safe and get rid of systemic problems.

On July 1, 2011, that pipeline broke and spilled 1,500 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Laurel in South Central Montana.

Chris Hoidal is regional director for PHMSA in Colorado. He told the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council that PHMSA is waiting for the test results of the broken piece of pipeline removed from the Yellowstone River.

“It’s our intention to close the order as soon as the metallurgical testing is done and we complete the accident investigation,” he says.

The forensics on the broken section of pipe could shed light on what specifically caused the break. Investigators suspect scouring caused by the flooding Yellowstone River contributed to the pipeline break.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer created the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council following the oil spill to investigate pipelines that cross waterways and make recommendations on how to prevent future spills.

The panel is chaired by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director (DEQ) Richard Opper. He says the council plans to release its draft report by the end of April or early May.

Some members of the public would like absolutes that there will be no future oil pipeline spills in Montana in the future. “I would have say I am one of those people who would like an absolute,” Opper says. “There are no absolutes. As long as we’re going to use oil in this country there are going to be spills occasionally. There are going to be accidents. There are also going to be things that we can do minimize the risk to make sure that the product that does flow - underneath our landscape and across our rivers – we can take steps to make sure that they’re safe.”

ExxonMobil recently made upgrades to shore up its Silvertip line. The company also spent an estimated $115 million to clean up parts of the Yellowstone River, the shoreline, and adjacent lands contaminated with crude following the pipeline break.

The Montana DEQ, meanwhile, is taking public comment until Feb. 21, 2012 on a proposed legal settlement with ExxonMobil Pipeline Company over the oil spill. The Administrative Order of Consent covers monitoring, remediation, as well as penalties and the cost of the cleanup.

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Transportation Nation

City of Houston Top Purchaser of Green Energy

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

(photo by spotzilla via flickr)

(Laurie Johnson -- Houston, KUHF) For the fourth straight year, the city of Houston is the leader in the amount of green energy it buys and uses.

In fact, the top three municipalities in the renewable energy arena are Houston, Austin and Dallas.

Houston Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian says the city also beats out companies like Starbucks and Hilton and even the U.S. Department of Energy. "Thirty-three percent of our energy comes from wind farms in West Texas," she said. "And we're looking to see if we can increase that percentage over the next year or so to maybe 50 percent. And if you add in the private sector, we're number six in the country."

Houston's contract with Reliant Energy is up next year. The city will put out a request for proposals for a new contract, either with Reliant or another energy provider. Spanjian says part of the contract negotiations will involve upping the amount of green energy the city buys.

She says it's not a coincidence that Houston, Austin and Dallas are the top municipalities on the list.

"What's great about Texas is actually that wind is extremely affordable and it's extremely cost-competitive," she said. "You know, solar is not for this state. California is the solar leader and Texas is the wind leader. In fact, if Texas were a country we would be the sixth largest wind producer in the world."

Texas produces 10,000 megawatts of wind every year. The number one purchaser of green energy across all sectors is Intel Corporation.

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Transportation Nation

House Transpo Bill Gets Storm of Criticism from Advocates, Dems -- Even AAA

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

 (photo by Kate Hinds)

The reviews are in on the House transportation bill:

"It's like funding a quit-smoking program by lowering the smoking age to generate more revenue from cigarette taxes." (USPIRG statement)

"It would reverse all the progress we have made in the past 20 years...horrible." (League of American Bicyclists)

"This bill is less about creating jobs and more about giving the green light to the oil industry and road-builders."  (Southern Environmental Law Center)

“Additional research is required to demonstrate exactly how bigger and heavier trucks would impact traffic safety. Absent this research, we cannot take the chance – there is simply too much at stake.” (AAA statement)

To be sure, the bill has its supporters.

"Chairman Mica has done tremendous work," the Associated General Contractors of America said.  "The legislation will significantly accelerate transportation improvements." (Associated General Contractors of America)

But the tone of criticism by advocates for smart growth, biking, walking, and transit was considerably sharper than its been in the past-- an indication of how far apart the two sides are on a bill that used to be negotiated far more amicably.

Even AASHTO -- the group that represents state transportation officials, also known as a big proponent of highway spending -- wasn't exactly effusive.

"We are pleased that the House and Senate are moving ahead on a long-term surface transportation authorization. A long-term bill that sustains the surface transportation program at current funding levels is critical to the nation's economy and creating American jobs."  (AASHTO statement).

Democratic politicians didn't pull any punches.  Here's New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler: "I am generally troubled by the treatment of programs critical to our nation's economy, and to the New York region, namely: transit, environmentally friendly alternative transportation programs, rail, (and) freight...As language in the bill currently stands, these dedicated funding soruces are either fundamentally reformed, or eliminated completely."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has given the bill little chance of passage (a Senate bill is only for two years of funding, among the many differences), but that won't prevent a spring with a lot of heat over this one.  Stay tuned.



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It's A Free Blog

Opinion: Obama's Got No Good Options on Energy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In his State of the Union, the president showed his support for more domestic energy exploration, and while we may have stopped one pipeline, we haven't changed a system that demands us to pipe more oil and natural gas further distances to power our everyday lives.

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World Weekly with Gideon Rachman

Tensions rise between Iran and the west and Nigeria tries to end a costly fuel subsidy

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tensions rise between Iran and the west and Nigeria tries to end a costly fuel subsidy


Transportation Nation

Backers of the Keystone XL Vow To Continue To Push For The Pipeline

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Transcanada's Map of the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline

(Billings, MT – YPR) – Montana’s Congressional delegation is critical of President Barack  Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. (See a map of proposed pipeline here and here.)

Senator Max Baucus, D-MT, pledged to continue to fight for approval of the pipeline that would cross Montana from the oil tar sand fields in Alberta, Canada to the U-S Gulf Coast. The pipeline was also planned to pick up crude from the Bakken oil fields of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.

“There is absolutely no reason we cannot start putting Montanans to work on the Keystone XL pipeline right away,” says Montana’s senior U-S Senator. “We’ve done three years of analysis and worked hard on strict environmental considerations.” Baucus says it’s time to move forward on jobs and energy security, “and I’ll keep fighting tooth and nail until that happens.”

Baucus, a Democrat, was part of the majority that mandated the Obama Administration issue a decision on a permit for Keystone XL pipeline project by the February 21, 2012 deadline.

“I am disappointed by the President’s decision,” says U-S Senator Jon Tester, D-MT. “Just as I have supported Montana’s renewable energy jobs, I have long supported responsibly building this pipeline with the highest safety standards and with respect for private property rights.”

Sandy Barnick is a Montana landowner who would be impacted by the proposed pipeline route. She’s also a member of the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group, an opponent.

“I’m glad to hear the President stood with landowners who knew the impacts on our state from this pipeline have not been adequately analyzed,” Barnick said in a written statement. “The President stood on the side of the people, as opposed to foreign corporations, today. I hope this decision sets a precedent that the impacts from a project must be determined before approval.

TransCanada wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

A written statement from the White House said the announcement was “not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.”

Some Republican members of Congress  are also critical of the President’s decision.

Montana’s lone U-S Representative Denny Rehberg in a written statement says the decision is “shameful.” He says the President put his re-election ahead of jobs for Americans and , “shows just how much of this Administration and its allies have bought into the radical, anti-job agenda of environmental extremists like the League of Conservation Voters.”

U-S Senator Mike Enzi, R-WY, is also critical of the President’s decision, saying creating jobs and getting energy from “our friends should have been an easy decision.”

“In Wyoming, the energy industry has created high-paying jobs that thousands of people rely on,” Enzi says in a written statement. “Putting more than 20,000 people to work across the country is a good thing. Canada is ready to help us lessen our reliance on places like the Middle East and Venezuela for our energy needs. Flipping the XL switch to ‘on’ should have been a no-brainer.”

Last November, the Obama administration put a decision whether to issue a permit on hold, in part to study a new proposed route that would have skirted an environmentally sensitive area in Nebraska.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, called lawmakers into special session in November over the issue. Lawmakers passed bills to change the pipeline’s original route.

Senator Max Baucus’ office says the White House “officially rejected the necessary permit today,  but this decision does not preclude the company from reapplying for a permit as soon as this week.”

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Transportation Nation

President Kills Pipeline: Full Statement

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


From the White House:

Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people. I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil. Under my Administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down. In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security –including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas. And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.

And here's the release by the state department:

Denial of the Keystone XL Pipeline Application

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 18, 2012

Today, the Department of State recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest. The President concurred with the Department’s recommendation, which was predicated on the fact that the Department does not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest.

Since 2008, the Department has been conducting a transparent, thorough, and rigorous review of TransCanada’s permit application for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, on November 10, 2011, the Department announced that it could not make a national interest determination regarding the permit application without additional information. Specifically, the Department called for an assessment of alternative pipeline routes that avoided the uniquely sensitive terrain of the Sand Hills in Nebraska. The Department estimated, based on prior projects of similar length and scope, that it could complete the necessary review to make a decision by the first quarter of 2013. In consultations with the State of Nebraska and TransCanada, they agreed with the estimated timeline.

On December 23, 2011, the Congress passed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (“the Act”). The Act provides 60 days for the President to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest – which is insufficient for such a determination.

The Department’s denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects.


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Transportation Nation

Reports: Obama to Reject Keystone Pipeline

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NPR's got the roundup of news stories on the pipeline's demise:

Several news outlets are reporting that the Obama administration will reject TransCanada's proposal to run an oil pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

The Washington Post reports the administration will make it official later today and will allow TransCanada to reapply once it has a proposal to reroute the pipeline to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills of Nebraska.

As we've reported, the Keystone XL pipeline has become a rallying point for environmentalists. The president first sought to put off a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 elections, but he agreed to make a decision by Feb. 21 as part of the payroll tax cut negotiations.

Full post here.


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Transportation Nation

California's Diesel Decade

Thursday, January 12, 2012

photo by Shani Aviram

One of the expenses truckers face is paying to upgrade their rigs to meet new environmental emissions regulations for diesel engines. California has the strictest gasoline emissions regulations in the country. The "smog check" is a consuming ritual known to every Californian. Until very recently, diesel engines on freight trucks – big rigs that haul almost everything we buy in and out of ports and across the country – haven’t been under the same rules. Now, that’s starting to change.

In 2010, the California Air Resources Board created a new set of emissions regulations for diesel engines. On a rolling basis, freight trucks are required to retrofit older engines, or to buy completely new trucks to meet stricter emissions standards. While those requirements can be expensive for truckers, so are the environmental impacts.

KALW’s Julie Caine sat down to talk with Rob Harley, professor of environmental engineering at U.C. Berkeley about how the new regulations are changing the air we breathe.

Listen to the interview here

JULIE CAINE: Can you just summarize the changes in regulations, the effects on port truckers?

ROB HARLEY: There’s been a lot of effort in the last couple of years to take steps to clean up the emissions from port trucks. Some of the oldest trucks, built before 1994, are no longer able to be at the port. Some of the more recent models have needed exhaust filters installed or even been replaced completely with brand new trucks or newer trucks.

CAINE: Why were those regulations put into place?

HARLEY: Diesel trucks are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the state of California and the whole country. And the trucks last a long time. They can stay on the road for 20 years or more. And, especially at the ports, we had a pretty old mix of trucks operating right in an urban community with residential neighborhoods nearby. So that posed air pollution and health concerns for the neighbors.

CAINE: You've been studying some of the effects of those changes. You did some measurements at the Port of Oakland in 2009 and then again in 2010. Was that timed with the changes in the regulations?

HARLEY: Yes, exactly. We made some measurements just before the first phase of the program took effect and then we were back about six months later after the oldest trucks had been banned and a lot of filters had been installed and some newer trucks had come into the fleet. We timed those measurements deliberately to give a before and an after – and to see what the emission changes were from this attempt to clean up the port trucks.

CAINE: What did you find?

HARLEY: Well, it was pretty impressive reductions. Things went down by about 50 percent. When I say “things” I mean the black smoke emissions and also the nitrogen oxide emissions. These are two of the major air pollutants that diesel trucks emit a lot of and we were really struck by how quickly this reduction in emissions had occurred. Normally it might take 10 years of gradual replacement of old trucks to get that kind of reduction. Here it was in 6 months instead of 10 years that those emission reductions happened. That's a very rapid and successful reduction in emissions.

CAINE: These emission regulations are for the whole state of California, is that correct?

HARLEY: They will be. The ports and rail yards have been what the state calls an early action item. They got started there first, but the same kinds of requirements are coming statewide to all trucks, not just the ports and rail yards. There's going to be a lot of activity there in the next coming years, but California's approach is different from the national approach. The national approach is only about new trucks, saying they need to have modern emission equipment, but California reaches out to the older models and says that those trucks have to be either cleaned up or retired on an accelerated schedule. That's part of California's longstanding role or approach as a laboratory for air pollution control. The program here is pushing more rapidly to reduce these diesel emissions than elsewhere in the country.

CAINE: Tell me about the impact on individual truckers who often own their own vehicles. Do you know how much it costs to retrofit a truck, as opposed to buying a new truck?

HARLEY: Yeah, so ballpark numbers might be $15,000 to put an exhaust filter on a diesel truck – that's a big investment and on a very old truck – it's probably not worth it because that would be more than the value of the truck. Brand new trucks could be $100,000, or something in that range. These are expensive pieces of equipment. There are some grant programs that the state and various other agencies involved have been helping, not to cover the complete cost, but to at least subsidize the costs of retrofits. And then there are some truckers who just replace, who get a newer or brand new truck rather than go through the investment of control equipment on an old truck that's not worth it. So it’s left to the individual to decide whether it makes more sense to replace with newer equipment or to retrofit older equipment. The very oldest trucks just weren't suitable for retrofitting, so they aren't in the program at all for being retrofitted.

CAINE: I would guess, similarly to people who drive very old, used cars, that people who were driving those very old trucks – that was probably all they could afford. I'm just curious if there are alternatives for people who can't afford a $15,000 filter, or can’t really put in a huge investment to meet those new requirements. Are there are any alternatives?

HARLEY: I think it is going to make it more expensive to operate. You need newer and cleaner equipment and there's a cost to having that. There are a lot of interesting questions about air pollution control related to this program. One of them is sort of a financial question: is it better to retrofit older trucks or just to replace them outright? I think the approach the Port of Oakland has taken is more cost effective by trying to retrofit some of the middle-aged trucks, and not delay and buy time before the bigger costs of replacing the equipment need to be incurred. In Southern California, they implemented a fee on every container and the shippers ended up subsidizing the replacement of trucks down there. Oakland's sort of in competition with the Southern California ports and it couldn't implement that fee on the shippers because it would just drive the business to other ports. So the approach in the Bay Area was a less costly one. On the other hand, there wasn't money from the shippers to cover all the costs. There were grant programs from the port itself, the state, and various other agencies to help offset some of the costs, but not all of them. So that's an interesting question: what's the right approach? What's the right short-term approach and what's the right longer term approach in terms of retrofitting filters on older trucks versus just replacing them to newer trucks?

CAINE: So what's the payoff for the rest of us? Let's talk about the community around the Port of Oakland. Do you have a sense of how the changes in regulations are affecting the health of folks around the port?

HARELY: That's a hard question – to say how people's health status is changing as the truck emissions are cleaned up. But it's an interesting question. It's really the point of all this effort to clean up the emissions of diesel trucks. So I can go only some of the first steps, and others will have to take some of the next steps in understanding what the health outcomes are. But we are seeing changes in air quality in the community, in West Oakland, near the port. Similar things are happening in Southern California, in the ports of L.A., and Long Beach regulation.

CAINE: Are you going back to do any more testing of the air?

HARELY: We are. We've been back – actually, quite recently – in November of this year. We'll go back again in early 2013, after 3 more model years of trucks have been fixed with emission filters and more replacement of the older trucks have occurred. So it's an ongoing program to clean up the diesel truck fleet in California. It started at the Port of Oakland and the Southern California ports as well, and it's going to move statewide over the coming years. You could almost call this the decade of diesel control coming up, and a really strong focus now on controlling diesel emissions in California.

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The Takeaway

Iran Threatens US Aircraft Carrier

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

In the wake of revelations about its nuclear program, many Western powers have discussed sanctioning Iran's petroleum exports. On Tuesday, Iran stepped up its saber-rattling, warning that if an American aircraft carrier returned to its base via the Strait of Hormuz, it would face the "full force" of the Iranian navy. Roughly one fifth of the world's oil travels through the strait, and it is also where Iran recently tested two long-range missiles during a naval exercise. However, a spokesman for the Department of Defense stated, "the deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades."


Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW MONTANA: Oil Boom in Canada Brings Megaloads South of the Border

Friday, December 30, 2011

A megaload moves through Montana (photo by Jackie Yamanaka/YPR)

(Billings, MT-YPR) The oil boom in Canada’s Tar Sands field and an oil refinery upgrade brought megaloads--huge shipments of drilling equipment-- across Western roads and interstate highways in 2011.

Opponents argue this equipment supports a dirty tar sands oil industry, will destroy public infrastructure, and disrupt scenic and wild landscapes. Proponents counter the megaloads will boost the economy. They add that until consumers no longer drive vehicles or use petroleum-based products, it's better to buy oil from friendly countries like Canada than from the Middle East.

Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil are seeking permission to move several hundred loads of large processing equipment from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho, through Idaho and neighboring Washington and Montana, to its final destination – the Kearl oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

Earlier this month, the Idaho Transportation Department temporarily suspended shipments of Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil refinery equipment following a collision with a vehicle. There were no injuries.

Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) Director Timothy Reardon recently gave an update on the Kearl transport project to the interim Revenue and Transportation Legislative Committee (RTC).

Conservation groups and others are fighting movement of the oil sands processing equipment.  Opponents argue MDT should have conducted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) rather than an Environmental Assessment (EA) in issuing permits to the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil loads. In Montana, a state district judge granted a preliminary injunction halting the loads earlier this year. District Judge Ray Dayton later modified his order when Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil proposed smaller load sizes, and set a January 6, 2012 hearing date for arguments on a permanent injunction sought by opponents. Reardon, who has been MDT’s lead attorney before being promoted to director in August, expects the judge will instead request a trial for a full hearing on the matter.

Originally, the loads were up to 30 feet tall and weighed more than 500,000 pounds. Because of the size and weight, the companies were seeking to move the loads at night on two-lane roads. Now the companies have basically cut those loads in half and have been traveling on the interstate.

“They’ve moved 80 so far on the interstate and they’ve done so without incident (in Montana),” Reardon told lawmakers during December’s RTC hearing. “One of the distinctions about using the interstate route that has become apparent is with half-size loads on the interstate, most vehicles can travel 55-60 MPH.”

He adds traveling on the interstate means the passing lane is free for other vehicles to get around the loads.

Reardon told lawmakers the companies have submitted an application to move 300 oversize loads via I-90 and I-15.

A legislator had asked MDT if the state agency had adequately assessed state bridges to make sure they could handle megaloads. Reardon says during the state’s EA of the Kearl Transportation Project, the agency’s engineers “used their best judgment based on the information at hand to determine that the bridges on the proposed route were sufficient.”

Reardon told lawmakers that after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, Montana began an aggressive program to inspect all of its bridges. “They’ve all been found to be structurally safe as far as this route (the Kearl transportation project) is concerned. Our engineers tell me they do not believe there is a risk.”

“They get paid to make decisions about building bridges and telling us if they think they are going to fail when they get a heavy load on it,” Reardon says. “And so far, they tell me those bridges are sound.”

Reardon says at this point, however, none of the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil loads have moved any of its loads on any of those bridges.

Another megaload shipment that received attention in Montana in 2011 was a proposal by ConocoPhillips to move four coke drum shipments from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho to the company’s oil refinery in Billings.

Protesters met the ConocoPhillips megaloads in February as crews traveled down a Missoula street.  It was the only Montana community to hold a protest rally.

The ConocoPhillips megaload moving through a Helena intersection in February 2011

In Helena, a few onlookers watched. At the final destination in Billings, crews were greeted with coffee and donuts in April.

Because of the size, the loads were split into two. The final load arrived at ConocoPhillips refinery in August. The final shipment was delayed by several weeks because of spring flooding across portions of Central and south central Montana.


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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: North Dakota's Oil Boom Strains Towns, GM Offers To Buy Back Volts

Friday, December 02, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Houston receives first-ever federal funds for light rail (link)

Democrats want stricter "made in America" rules for infrastructure projects. (Link)

John Mica could lose his seat under a redistricting proposal. (Link)

North Dakota (photo by John McChesney for NPR)

House leadership has put the brakes on a long-term transportation spending plan. (Washington Post)

The oil boom in North Dakota is straining small towns. (NPR)

DC Metro prepares to hike fares to close a budget gap. (Washington Post)

GM said it would buy back Volts from owners worried about battery fires. (New York Times)

The BART board voted to turn off cell phone service only in "the most extraordinary circumstances." (San Francisco Chronicle)

A New Jersey state assemblyman wants an investigation into the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's toll-hike discrepancy. (The Star-Ledger)

Thousands turned out for a New York City hearing on hydrofracking. (WNYC/Empire)

Friday video pick: watch as a video projection installation on the side of the Manhattan Bridge turns the structure into something resembling a portal to another dimension -- or a scene from the Matrix. (h/t Laughing Squid)

Projection on the Bridge - Immersive Surfaces - As Above, So Below from Light Harvest Studio - Ryan Uzi on Vimeo.

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The Takeaway

US Set To Become Net Exporter of Fuel

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Despite high gas prices, the U.S. is set to become a net fuel exporter for the first time in 62 years. While the U.S. is still importing 8 to 9 million barrels of crude oil a day, it is exporting a greater amount of refined fuel and petroleum products. The spike in exports is primarily driven by an increased demand for fuel worldwide combined with declining consumption here at home. But is the nation's newfound role as fuel exporter a blip on the map or a sustainable trend?


Transportation Nation

Without Keystone XL Pipeline, Railroads See Boom Time from Bakken

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Map of Bakken Shale Oil Formation. (Source: Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy online at

(Billings, MT – YPR) – Railroads are benefiting from the drilling boom in the Bakken Oil Formation. The region encompasses southern Canada bordering portions of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.

Denis Smith is vice president of marketing for industrial products for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). He says railroads have a long history of hauling crude petroleum, including from the Bakken, “but at this scale and at this volume, that’s what makes it unique and different and very exciting,” he says.

Smith says BNSF’s increase in traffic isn't just from hauling crude petroleum from the oil wells in the Bakken and surrounding Williston Basin. He says these wells also need deliveries of drilling supplies like sand, pipe, and other heavy materials. He says the shortage of semi trucks and drivers and the current lack of pipeline capacity means companies are turning to railroads.

He says to accommodate the increase of drilling activity, BNSF has been laying new sections of track for its customers from its main line to the terminals to accommodate these shipments.

“So if anyone is spending a lot of money right here, right now on track and capacity it’s the customer,” Smith says. He says customers are also having to buy rail cars.

TransCanada has proposed building the Keystone X-L pipeline that is to originate at the tar sand oil fields in Alberta Canada and extend to refineries and distribution terminals along the Gulf Coast in Texas. The pipeline was also expected to pick up crude from the Bakken.

The Obama Administration announced earlier this month a decision on a permit will be delayed as the U.S. State Department considers an alternate pipeline route. Originally, a decision was anticipated by the end of 2011.

In the meantime, Smith says oil companies continue to rely on rail to transport crude to market. Even if the Keystone X-L project is approved and permitted, it will take time to construct the nearly 2,000 mile long pipeline. “Rail is the most immediate and quickest way to get the oil to the marketplace at the moment,” Smith says.

He adds rail is also more flexible. He says a pipeline is point-to-point while BNSF transports crude to multiple locations from the Bakken. This includes to refineries and distribution and storage terminals in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, California, and to the East Coast.

That’s why Smith says BNSF expects to have a continued role in the Bakken even if the Keystone X-L pipeline is approved and operating.

“Theoretically, technically, mathematically it will take away a lot more barrels than are currently going, but we feel that on the rail-side we’ll have a solid 20-25 percent of the daily production up there (Bakken) move by rail,” he says.

BNSF is not the only railroad that’s seeing an increase in its rail traffic. The Calgary Herald reports Canadian Pacific is also increasing its investment because of the Bakken oil boom, as are other rail lines.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Petroleum, Power, and High Finance

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Greg Palast discusses his investigation into how the oil and banking industries manage to avoid government regulation. In Vulture’s Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores, he shows how environmental disasters like the Gulf oil spill, the Exxon Valdez, and lesser-known tragedies such as Tatitlek and Torrey Canyon are caused by corporate corruption, failed legislation, and veiled connections between the financial industry and big energy.

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Transportation Nation

House GOP Marries Domestic Energy to Transportation Funds

Thursday, November 17, 2011

John Boehner (center), with representatives Tim Murphy (L) and Doc Hastings (R), introducing the American Jobs & Infrastructure Act

House Republicans unveiled the outlines of a transportation authorization bill Thursday, relying on controversial methods of paying for highways that are already arousing the ire of Democrats.

The GOP plan pays for highways by expanding domestic energy production in three areas: offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, oil shale, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, otherwise known as ANWR.

In addition to domestic energy, the plan also calls for reforms and cuts in infrastructure programs. It eliminates so-called "transportation enhancements" that states now must fund out of federal highway dollars.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), flanked by several House GOP committee chairmen, teased the five-year bill for reporters but offered few specifics. The bill seeks to expand domestic energy production and also streamline and deregulate federally funded infrastructure projects. It's part of an effort to both fund highway construction and stretch scarce federal dollars further.

Some specifics of the bill were first reported Wednesday evening by Transportation Nation.

Republicans leaders want to use  expanded energy production to try and  match Senate Democrats' on highway funding, according to lawmakers familiar with the plan. Senate Democrats have offered a 2-year, $54 billion package for the Highway Trust Fund. That would suggest Republicans' Highway bill could run as high as $130 billion over five years, though the number could drop significantly if streamlining and deregulation cut the cost of doing projects.

"Our bill links job-creating energy production and infrastructure together," Boehner said at Thursday press briefing.

But Democrats were quick to lash out at the plan, even though it still exists only in outline form and has no price tag attached.

"They're not serious," said Rep. Nick Rahall, the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was referring to drilling in ANWR, a perennial partisan flashpoint in Congress and the epitome of 2008's Republican refrain, "Drill, baby, drill".

"Why would they talk about something that they know is going to raise the wrath and anger of our side," Rahall said. "We've been through this before."

Hearings are set to begin Friday, when the House Committee on Natural Resources is scheduled to hold a hearing entitled "ANWR: Jobs, Energy and Deficit Reduction."

Republicans are stressing the first two. Boehner late last week railed against President Obama's decision to delay construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, saying it would prevent the creation of 20,00o jobs. Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) Thursday said ANWR's North Slope could hold as many as 10.5 billion barrels of oil.

Still, politics aside, revenue is the big question. Democrats were quick to point out that expansions in offshore drilling royalties would only net $1 billion to $2 billion over ten years. And it dwarfs on-land drilling or shale production.

The bill is also, in large measure, the Republicans' answer to President Obama's election-year push for direct infrastructure spending as a vehicle for job creation. Democrats have spent more than a month applying political pressure to Republicans, pitting infrastructure projects and other popular programs against GOP opposition to tax increases on the wealthy. Boehner cast the bill in economic--and political--terms.

"We don't need more short-term stimulus gimmicks," he said. He decried "meddling and micromanaging our economy."

Boehner and other Republicans aren't talking about where they intend to get the money to pay for the bill. "They're not all available today," Boehner said, when asked about pay-fors for the plan. Boehner said he hopes to see the plan pass out of the House by the end of the year.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich



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The Brian Lehrer Show

Seeing History Through Oil

Monday, September 19, 2011

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Backstory: Canadian Tar Sands & the Keystone XL Pipeline

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The world’s largest energy project is underway in Alberta, Canada. Petroleum is being excavated from vast deposits of tar sands and a proposed pipeline would carry it to refineries in the United States. Journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, examines the ecological and economic impacts of the plan to develop the oil sands.

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